Fast Scans: Top Foreign & Indie Picks, December 2011

The Complete Jean Vigo. 2 discs. b/w. 161+ min. In French w/English subtitles. Criterion Collection. 1930‚ 34. DVD ISBN 9781604654585. $29.95; 1-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781604654578. $39.95.
Short-lived French director Jean Vigo (1905‚ 34) made a mere four films, with his only feature, L’Atalante, easily the finest. Entrancingly told in a lyrically realistic style, its story concerns a besotted couple coping with the vicissitudes in their new marriage. À Propos de Nice offers a sly critique of bourgeois society; Zéro de Conduite surrealistically puts down life in a boarding school; and, Taris uses cinematic technique to show the moves of a champion swimmer. A must-have career retrospective for cinephiles.

Mr. Nice. color. 121+ min. MPI Home Video. 2009. DVD ISBN 9780788611650.$27.98; Blu-ray ISBN 9780788611667. $34.98.
On the cusp of a drug-fueled era, Welshman Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans, in a casting coup) graduated from Oxford but earned folk-hero status in England as a hashish peddler who dodged law enforcement for years while living the high life with his longtime squeeze (Chloë Sevigny). Director Bernard Rose draws from his subject’s autobiography to limn the charming rogue in a way consistent with his Mr. Nice moniker. While Marks ends up doing time, he does not qualify as an antidrug poster boy.
For biopic aficionados.

The Robber. color. 101+ min. In German w/English subtitles. Kino Lorber. 2010. DVD UPC 738329076320. $29.95; Blu-ray UPC 738329082222. $34.95.
Fresh out of prison, Johann (Andreas Lust, Munich) immediately returns to holding up banks while also winning trophies as a marathon runner, until his girlfriend discovers his hidden stash. Based on the true story of Austria’s most infamous bank robber, director (and cowriter) Benjamin Heisenberg’s brazenly lean and kinetic drama dispenses with the usual rationale or backstory for his character’s obsessive behavior, but the opacity isn’t a deterrent. Action-film buffs should get enough thrills, if not in the conventional way.

Satyajit Ray’s The Music Room. 2 discs. b/w. 100+ min. In Bengali w/English subtitles. Criterion Collection. 1958. DVD ISBN 9781604654523. $29.95; 1-disc Blu-ray ISBN 9781604654516. $39.95.
Famed Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray (1921‚ 92), best known for his Apu Trilogy‚ Song of the Little Road (1955), The Unvanquished (1956), and The World of Apu (1959)‚ casts a humanist’s eye on an aging aristocrat rekindling past glories by hosting a sumptuous concert in his beloved jalsaghar, or music room. But the uplift is all too brief after a grievous personal tragedy hastens the nobleman’s decline, signaling the death knell for a fading way of life. A subtly moving but deliberately paced work best suited for serious film buffs.

The Tree. color. 100+ min. Zeitgeist Films. 2011. UPC DVD 795975113830. $29.99. SDH subtitles.
After her husband’s sudden death from a heart attack, an Australian woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her four children struggle with their unexpected loss, with one daughter in particular convinced her father’s soul resides in the elephantine tree engulfing their home. Based on Judy Pascoe’s novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree, writer-director Julie Bertuccelli’s film downplays the magical realism element to focus on a cathartic grieving process that avoids too-easy sentimentality. A family film in the best sense. [Trailers, LJ 11/1/11]